A century has passed since UK women were given the same voting rights as men, yet there remains many areas of life where gender inequality continues to thrive – take the construction industry, for instance, where women account for an estimated 13% of workers. A paltry figure, considering the building trade is engaged in a fierce struggle to recruit workers capable of helping solve the country’s housing shortage. According to recent reports, the UK construction industry will need approximately 400,000 new workers every year until 2021 to meet the demand for new building projects. Experts are predicting the roofing industry will have a shortfall of some 100,000 skilled crafts people over that period, and every trade sector is reporting a similar story.
The main cause of the UK’s skilled worker shortage is those downing tools and retiring from the building industry are not being replaced by a new generation. Females, in particular, have shown a reluctance to join the sector. A survey commissioned by housebuilder, Keepmoat, revealed just 13% of women aged between 16 and 25 would consider a career in the building trade. Building, it seems, is still perceived as ‘men’s work’. It’s a stereotype that needs to be overcome if hard-hat duties and senior positions within the trade are to be shared between the sexes.
Women in Roofing
At National Construction Training Services Ltd (NCTS), we are working with a wide of range of construction trade federations to find finance and set up programmes to train a new generation of skilled workers. We have already identified key areas which need urgent attention, particularly in roofing, one of them being the need to encourage more women into the industry. Women who have settled on a career in construction have already made a significant and positive difference. It’s led to the formation of Women in Roofing, ‘an organisation founded to collaborate with all aspects of the roofing industry to achieve diversity and longevity’. With the help of this group, the industry is listening and women are playing a more important role in every area of the supply chain.
Formed in 2013, the group stages its third annual Women in Roofing Conference in March. Focused on Diversity and Wellbeing, the event will feature a number of keynote speakers and offer a host of networking opportunities. Events such as these are a vital support system for women in the industry, as well as acting as a useful selling tool in attracting others to join. And the construction industry needs all the help it can get on that score, particularly when latest Department for Education figures showed the gender pay gap within the building trade is up to 5 percentage points higher than the UK average. Statistics revealed the gender pay gap in the construction sector stands at 23%, compared with 18.1% in the UK as a whole.
As well as the Women in Roofing Conference, we have also seen the first Women in UK Construction, Property and Engineering Inspire Summit. To quote the event’s publicity material, the Inspire Summit ‘highlights women working in the UK construction, engineering and housing sectors that are bucking the trend, reshaping expectations and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps’. Following the inaugural summit’s success in attracting construction professionals from all sectors ‘to hear about the daily contribution women make to the industry’, a second event is being held in Manchester later this year.
When it comes to employing more women in the construction industry, the UK could learn from the rest of the world. In America for example, it has been estimated that some 2.5 million skilled workers were lost forever from the construction business following the financial collapse in 2008. However, in 2015 women filled nearly 6.3% of apprentice positions in the state of Massachusetts – up from 4.2% in 2012. Women also accounted for 5% of construction work hours in Boston in 2015. This seems to be typical of what is happening across the US, and it’s a similar story in Australia and New Zealand.
Several studies show that women in construction provide a wider pool of opinions, experiences and problem solving than men. There is also clear evidence that women offer improved decision making, calmer heads and better communication and are less inclined to take dangerous risks – vital with increasing health and safety legislation on construction sites.
It does seem incredible that we are still having this debate in 2018, but hopefully – not for much longer. Let’s stop the talking now and start training and recruiting before it’s too late. NCTS offers a variety of professional training courses designed to fit with an array of needs and skill levels – regardless of gender – to educate candidates and create an environment for them to thrive, rather than simply survive, in the roofing sector.
Our expert assessors carry out site visits, delivering detailed reports on the skills and industry knowledge on show to help improve workplace performance. An NCTS course can lead to an NVQ level 2 qualification, opening-up a world of opportunity for young roofers, particularly women, as it enables them to work on any site in the UK.
At NCTS, we believe the construction industry can no longer afford to ignore the demand for women to have a greater representation. We will certainly be doing our bit to redress the sector’s gender imbalance.
By Jayne Fergusson, Operations Director at National Construction Training Services Ltd